The list of talented basketball players who have donned the blue and gray uniform at the University of Memphis is a long and extensive one. From Larry Finch, Keith Lee and Elliot Perry to current head coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Memphis has produced many recognizable and influential names.
Of all those decorated players, only three can say they have the most wins in NCAA history over a four-year period: Robert Dozier, Chance McGrady and Antonio Anderson.
Anderson, now home in Massachusetts as a boy’s basketball coach at Lynn English High School, discussed his time playing and winning basketball games for Memphis.
John Calipari’s mantra of “Refuse to Lose” has been well publicized. Can you talk about that attitude and how losing was not an option for you and your teammates?
“We were just very competitive. We bought into it. Coach Cal and the coaches were talking to us about the importance of the basketball, life in Memphis and how much they embraced basketball and how much they appreciate it. We just loved playing at the (FedEx) Forum with 18,000 fans there. We took pride in winning, pride in wearing that jersey and pride in representing the university the way we did.”
Your teams hated to lose games. Shawne Williams and Andre Allen were crying after the preseason NIT championship game loss to Duke in 2006. How do you feel about some recent Tiger players laughing on the bench, seemingly unfazed during blowout losses?
“It could be a different era. I think losing really bothered all of us. Even when we were playing pick-up ball in the summer, after a loss, we wanted to fight one another. That’s just the way we were, but I can’t say that about all of the players. I’ve been to a game (a few seasons ago) when Memphis lost a tough one at UConn. I was in the locker room, and the guys were down about it. Jeremiah (Martin) and those guys, they weren’t too happy, and that showed a lot. I know Jeremiah pretty well since he came to Memphis, and he’s one of my favorites. He’s loyal, he’s trying his best to get the program back on track and he’s doing all that he can. That’s one kid I’ll always support.”
Tiger basketball has faced trouble developing an identity since your teams. How did you all create the hard-nosed mentality you possessed during your team’s tenure?
“It’s more of a team mindset. Guys on the floor have to have pride in not allowing people to score. People are going to score, you’re playing against some of the top athletes in the world, but at the same time, if you have those five guys on the floor with a mindset of, ‘We’re going to stop them, or we’re going to shut them down,’ then things get different for you. I think that’s the mindset we carried every game. We felt teams couldn’t score on us, and that’s why we were able to dominate a lot of our opponents.”
With your coast-to-coast buzzer beater at Tulsa and famous free throws against Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament, you’re considered one of the biggest clutch players in Tiger history. Your teams always seemed to come up big when it mattered most. What was the team’s thought process during those pivotal moments?
“We always felt our practices were tougher than games. You had myself, Chris (Douglas-Roberts), Joey (Dorsey), Derrick (Rose) and those guys who were starting, and then you had guys like Willie (Kemp), Andre (Allen), Pierre (Henderson-Niles), Shawn Taggart, you had Doneal Mack, you have all these guys who, regardless if they were starting or if they came off the bench, you’re going against guys who could start at any other school. We had our practices, which were like games to us, and that’s why, when we got in close games, we felt, ‘We’ve seen this before.’ Everyone supported everyone regardless of who was on the floor.”
When Memphis basketball is humming, you’re treated like a celebrity in this town. Talk about being in your early 20s and having the city in the palm of your hands.
“It was cool, but at the same time, it was very humbling. You still have to make the right decisions. You still have to be yourself. I was raised in a way to respect others. I always said hello to people. I always took pictures. And that’s why people loved us because we could be out eating, and we’d take a picture. We could be here and take pictures. We’d do autographs. Anything that they asked of us, we did, and that’s why they appreciated us and supported us so much.”
You were an out-of-town kid who chose Memphis over bigger schools. Sell the university and the experience of playing here rather than a competitor.
“I would just tell them that they have to go to Memphis with an open mind. If you go there with an open mind, and you meet some of the people that Memphis has down there, they’re some of the nicest people in the world. I’ve built friendships with people, people that I still speak with ’til this day, regular students who didn’t even play sports. It’s just so welcoming, and they embrace you with the utmost respect. And as long as you respect people and carry yourself the right way, people will show you lots of love, and you can’t beat that.”
Lastly, give me your biggest takeaway from being in Memphis, being a Memphis athlete, playing ball here and winning games here.
“It’s the best feeling ever. I think Memphis is the best place in the world to play. I think if you embrace that city the way they embrace you, and you give it your all, there is no other place I would have rather played. I think I made the greatest decision ever. By choosing the University of Memphis over schools with bigger names at the time, I don’t regret it one bit.”
Former Tigers guard Antonio Anderson gets into his defensive stance. Anderson famously hit game-winning free-throws to help the Tigers advance past Texas A&M in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
Former Tigers guard Antonio Anderson goes up for a layup against Central Florida. Anderson averaged eight points per game during his time at Memphis.